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AHRC Research in Film Awards 2017: What the Judges Think

Literary Editor of the Financial Times and Chair of the RIFA Judging Panel

The shortlist for the AHRC’s Research in Film Awards is out, the judges have cast their votes – ahead of the awards ceremony on 9 November, we've spoken to some of the judges to hear what they think about the awards.

“I think that this competition is really maturing very nicely,” says Jan Dalley, Literary Editor of the Financial Times, and one of the judges.

“We're getting a wider range of applications; we're seeing a wider range of subject matter, techniques and quality.”

The awards are designed to showcase, reward and recognise the best of the growing number of high-quality short films that are linked to arts and humanities research.

In all, 25 films have now been shortlisted for this year’s awards, including animations, dramas, documentaries and community collaboration projects.

“The best applications, those on the shortlist and the winners, are extremely professional, well thought out and well-made,” says Dalley.

“Together they’re a great advocate for research in film. This is a competition we want to grow and grow.”

The judging panellists – who included Richard Davidson-Houston of Channel 4 Television and Matthew Reisz from Times Higher Education, along with other film industry experts and academics – each watched between 12-15 films, which they scored from one to five.

“The best applications, those on the shortlist and the winners, are extremely professional, well thought out and well-made "
– Jan Dalley

“We've tried to make the membership of the judging panels as wide ranging as possible and include expertise from the wider reaches of film, including education, social projects, archives and film heritage,” says Dalley.

The judges' scores were then aggregated. “And hopefully a winner emerges,” says Dalley.

“Although with the quality at the top being so high, this can be tricky and sometimes we have to bring in someone with special expertise to adjudicate!”

University of East Anglia Senior Research Associate and first time RIFA Judge Dr Katherine Cooper

Katherine Cooper, Senior Research Associate, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, is a judge this year for the first time, and says she was surprised and intrigued by the creative approaches she's seen in this year's shortlisted films.

“I was thrilled to be asked because it seemed like such an amazing project to get involved with,” she says.

Win or lose, Dr Copper argues that all the filmmakers will benefit from being involved in the competition.

“It can be difficult for those in the Arts and Humanities to engage with the public. And film is a great way to bridge that gap and talk to people in a quite direct way,” she says.

“It seems to me to be a fascinating thing, to be able to tease out the themes of your research and actually communicate that through film.”

Dr Cooper argues that the discipline that comes with trying to project your research through film can feed back positively into academic work more broadly and help researchers focus better on their goals. 

“I think academics should be finding ways to break their research down into bite-sized chunks, and film is great for this,” she says.

“If you can't explain what you are doing simply, then you don't understand it."
– Dr Katherine Cooper

“If you can't explain what you are doing simply, then you don't understand it.  What's your cocktail party response if someone asks what you do? How can you boil down what you study into a short statement that anyone can understand.

“Most departments now seem to have access to the kind of technology and expertise that you need to make films.

“I would encourage more people to get involved and make films. It's a very useful experience, and a lot of fun.”

The filmmakers and research leads will be invited to a special ceremony at the prestigious 195 Piccadilly in London, home of BAFTA, on 9 November, when the overall winner of each category will be announced.

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